Ground Zero Mosque Controversy Helps Give Rise to Islamophobia Across the US

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

A man was accused of attempted murder for his vicious knife attack on a Muslim New York City Cab driver Tuesday evening in what is being described as a hate crime by the authorities.

Michael Enright, a college student who also did some volunteer work in Afghanistan, was being held without bail on charges of assault and attempted murder as hate crimes.

In a criminal complaint filed by the New York Police Department, Michael Enright allegedly asked the driver if he was a Muslim. The cab driver, Ahmed H Sharif, an immigrant from Bangladesh, replied that yes he was indeed a Muslim. At this point, Mr. Enright is alleged to have uttered the customary Arabic greeting of “Aslaam-a-laikum” (Peace be with you) and brutally attacked the cab driver with a knife, slashing him badly on the face, hands and neck. During the attack, Mr Enright also uttered “Consider this a checkpoint” to the cab driver, all the while brutally attacking him with his knife.

 Besides a serious neck wound, the cab driver, Mr Sharif, suffered cuts on his forearms, face, and hands while trying to defend himself from the attacker.

Inexplicably, Einright had volunteered with Intersections International, a group that promotes interfaith dialogue between religions and an organization that has also supported the plans for the Islamic center and mosque 2 blocks from Ground Zero. He had also recently returned from Afghanistan where he volunteered to be embedded with a combat battalion so that he could document their experiences as soldiers that Einright wanted to showcase in an upcoming documentary.

Police stated that Einright was drunk and intoxicated at the time of the attack on Mr Sharif and it is not clear what his motive was for perpetrating the violence on the cab driver. There is growing speculation however amongst members of the American Muslim community as well as several civil rights organizations such as the ACLU and CAIR that the attack is a result of the growing Islamophobia and fear amongst the American public as a direct result of the Ground Zero Mosque controversy that has been brewing for weeks and has been front and center in the media and the American public for some time now.

The plan to build an Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from the 9/11 tragedy and the site of the World Trade Center towers became controversial as right wing groups seized on what they believed to be “an insensitive provocation towards the American public”. Muslim groups demanded their First Amendment rights of freedom of religion and pointed to the New York City council vote allowing them the permit to build as reasons for what they are doing as legal and in fact an effort to build bridges between Islam and other faiths following the events of September 11. However, the issue became nationally prominent and controversial by then as fanned by right wing blogs and ad campaigns, the majority of the American public became against the building of the mosque, according to recent polls.

Thankfully, the voice of reason in this whole debate has been none other than the billionaire Jewish mayor of New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His stance and views in support of the mosque as a constitutionally protected right has been welcomed by Muslims as well as civil rights organizations and he should be commended for standing up for what is constitutionally the right thing to do. Briefly, President Obama also came out in support of the group’s right to build the mosque as being a constitutional right, before making statements the next day that “questioned the wisdom” of building it there.

Nonetheless, a link has been made by the right wing, no matter how unfairly, that Islam promotes terror and violence. This can be seen in the fact that the vast majority of Americans now have a negative and unfavorable view of Muslims. For the country to be even having a debate whether a group of Americans can build a house of worship is a testament to how far things have regressed.

No one would ever have thought that a constitutionally protected right such as that of freedom of religion would ever seem controversial. Many have argued that only the area around Ground Zero is off limits to Muslims and they are free to build their mosques elsewhere. This does not appear to be the case as mosques thousands of miles away from Ground Zero in California, Tennessee, Ohio and elsewhere across the country have now come under heavy opposition by local zoning boards and people in those communities. The fear and hatred of Muslims is becoming a growing problem as the Ground Zero Mosque controversy has began to fuel acts of violence against Muslims as seen in the attack on the NYC cab driver. It is a message that is being sent to the American public that Muslims in the United States do not deserve the same rights and privileges enjoyed by all others. In fact, there is an attempt to link all mosques to terror somehow, which is very offensive to millions of peaceful Muslims who abhor violence and who live decent hard working lives in their communities.

At first I was not happy to learn that Muslims planned to build a mosque near Ground Zero as I knew that this would become controversial. But as the opposition to mosques has grown across the nation, and not just for building near Ground Zero, but hundreds and thousands of miles away, it has become clear that this anti-mosque movement is not just about that hallowed area near the World Trade Center site but is in fact becoming an opposition to the religion of Islam as a whole.

This idea by the opponents of the mosque and the right wingers that somehow it is perverted and insensitive to build a mosque several blocks from Ground Zero is in reality only true if we buy into the belief that Muslims and Islam brought down the towers and not a handful of radical extremists of the religion of Islam. If we believe that mainstream Islam itself was responsible for all those deaths on American soil and not Osama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaida network, only then would building the mosque there be insensitive. But for us to somehow associate the whole religion of Islam of over 1.5 billion people by the actions of 19 terrorists is ridiculous.

It is my fear that attacks similar to the one a few days ago on the NYC cab driver will continue to grow as we allow an environment of hate to perpetuate and grow against a group of people. At the very least, this opposition to mosques across the country will certainly grow and continue to spread the notion that ALL Muslims are violent and terrorists. This is simply not true as the 5-7 million American Muslims and the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world will attest.

We must remember that we have a war on terror and not a war on Islam. Far away from Ground Zero in cities across the US as more and more mosques come under opposition in their communities, we must hold steadfast to our ideals, principles and to the US Constitution. As the best nation in the world, we have to defend our ideal and the basis of what makes us the best and that is the US Constitution. Speaking as an American and not even as a Muslim, I know that if we stop defending it for fear of being distasteful, insensitive, or inconsiderate, then we lose what makes us who we are as the freest nation in the world and we must not ever let that happen!

-Manzer Munir, a peace activist, and the founder of Pakistanis for Peace, is a freelance journalist who writes for www.PakistanisforPeace.com and other online journals.

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    • satwa gunam
    • August 30th, 2010

    Can there be a soul searching to see why suddenly the world is getting worried about muslim and they are on the nerves of them. They donot have such problem with hindus and other religions.

    • You are right about that Satwa. There is some real soul searching that needs to go on in the Muslim world. I will be writing an article on the need for that and this very topic in next few weeks, please check back at this website by then.

      Unfortunately, the vast majority of people that need this introspection and soul searching, the ones that are the extremist and ones on the outer firnges of that mindset, well, they are not reachable by this logic that you and I may share.

      The key is to get to the other ‘silent’ majority that does not agree with the extremists but at the same time is not doing enough to speak out against them and their actions either. This is the audience that this blog hopes to attract in order to gain their support.

      Not the Taliban, the ultra conservative as well as the extremists as they are already too far gone to try and reach them with any reason or logic. But you are right, the majority of the world’s peaceful Muslims needs to stand up to the menace that is the Taliban and Islamic extremism. That is one of the goals of this blog to lend a voice to a moderate, tolerant, progressive version of Islam. A more Sufi Islam in my view rather than the Wahabbi sect that presently dominates.

    • satwa gunam
    • September 16th, 2010

    Great to see a moderate which i generally fail to see in any muslim blog whether it belongs to india or pakistan or elsewhere.

    Instead of blaming the whole world for the problem if the community can start looking inward and make changes wherever it is required, i thing all will go in the right direction.

    • London Pirtle
    • April 17th, 2012

    kinda boring to read

    • Thanks for that rather unflattering comment London. We would like to read anything you wrote just to see if it keeps us mesmerized. Oh you don’t write anything other than unflattering comments on people’s blogs? Nice….very nice~

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